1940 1¢ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Famous Americans Series – Poets
Issue Date: February 16, 1940
First City: Portland, Maine
Quantity Issued: 51,603,580
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforation: 10 ½ x 11
Color: Bright blue green
Portrayed on U.S. #864, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote poems that often featured subjects of myths and legends. His “Song of Hiawatha,” “Evangeline,” and “Paul Revere’s Ride” made him one of America’s most respected poets.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Acclaimed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807, in Portland, Maine.
The second of eight children, Longfellow began attending school when he was just three years old. He was then sent to a private school at age six, where he was known for being very studious and fond of reading. He published his first poem, “The Battle of Lovell’s Pond,” in 1820.
Longfellow then entered Bowdoin College in 1822, when he was 15. While there he met and befriended fellow writer Nathaniel Hawthorne and future president Franklin Pierce. During his time there, Longfellow published nearly 40 poems. He graduated fourth in his class and delivered the student commencement address.
After graduation, Longfellow was offered the job of Professor of Modern Languages at the college. To prepare, he spent three years in Europe, visiting France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and England. During this time he learned French, Spanish, Portuguese, and German, mostly on his own. He also met Washington Irving in Madrid, who was impressed by his work and encouraged him to keep writing.
Upon returning to Bowdoin, Longfellow began teaching and also served as the school’s librarian. He used some of his time there to translate textbooks from French, Italian, and Spanish. Longfellow also published a travel book based on his European tour titled, Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea.
In 1834, the president of Harvard College invited Longfellow to become their Professor of Modern Languages. Once again, he went to Europe to prepare, learning German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, and Icelandic. His first wife, who accompanied him to Europe, died during that trip, leaving Longfellow distraught.
Upon returning to the US, Longfellow began writing more and started publishing his poetry in 1839. His first volume of poetry appeared in 1839, and his next, Ballads and Other Poems (1841), contained poems like “The Village Blacksmith,” that became familiar to generations of Americans. He also wrote longer works, such as “Evangeline” (1847), which established him as a popular narrative poet.
During his time at Harvard, Longfellow also began courting Frances Appleton. After seven years she finally agreed to marry him and they had six children together. Longfellow left Harvard in 1854 to focus more on writing. He received an honorary doctorate of laws from Harvard in 1859. Longfellow also produced some of his most famous and epic works during this period, including “The Song of Hiawatha” (1855), “The Courtship of Miles Standish” (1858), and “Paul Revere’s Ride” (1860).
Longfellow notably also gained significant popularity in Europe. He was one of the most famous men in his day and received a private audience with the Queen of England when he traveled there. Reportedly, 10,000 copies of “The Courtship of Miles Standish” sold in London on a single day.
Longfellow’s wife died tragically after her dress caught fire in 1861. Longfellow never fully recovered the loss. He begged not to be sent to an asylum and said that was “inwardly bleeding to death.” His grief left him unable to write for some time, so he turned to translating Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. His translation was popular and went through four printings in its first year alone.
During the Civil War, Longfellow’s son was injured in battle, inspiring him to write the poem “Christmas Bells,” which was later the basis for the carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. In 1874, his poem “The Hanging of the Crane” sold for $3,000, the most ever paid for a poem up to that time.
Longfellow died on March 24, 1882 after suffering from severe stomach pain, later diagnosed as peritonitis. In his final years he had been translating the poetry of Michelangelo. It was later published in 1883. Longfellow was considered the most popular American poet of his day, with one friend saying, “no other poet was so fully recognized in his lifetime.”
In 1938, the Post Office Department announced plans for a series of stamps recognizing 10 famous Americans and invited the public to submit recommendations. The response was so great that it was decided to increase the number from 10 to 35. This required an unexpected level of organization by the Post Office Department for this series.
Seven categories were decided upon – authors, poets, educators, scientists, composers, artists, and inventors. Each category of five has the same set of denominations – 1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢, and 10¢. Each rate had a valid use. The 1¢ stamp paid for a letter that was dropped off at a post office to someone who had a box at the same office. The 2¢ was for local delivery. The 3¢ paid the normal non-local mail rate, and the 5¢ and 10¢ were used in combination for heavier letters and special rates. The denominations also shared a consistent coloring scheme: 1¢ is bright blue green; 2¢ is rose carmine; 3¢ is bright red violet; 5¢ is ultramarine; and 10¢ is dark brown.
Each category has its subjects arranged with the oldest birth date going on the 1¢ stamp, down to the most recent birth date on the 10¢ stamp. Each category has its own dedicated symbol in the engraving – a scroll, quill pen and inkwell for authors; a winged horse (Pegasus) for poets; the “Lamp of Knowledge” for educators; laurel leaves and the pipes of the Roman god Pan for composers; and inventors had a cogwheel with uplifted wings and a lightning flash to symbolize power, flight, and electricity.
The artists and the scientists have multiple symbols. Artists have either a paint palette and brush (for painters), and the sculptors have a stonecutting hammer and chisel. Scientists had the classical symbol of their particular profession.